Road Trip Panoramas: Valley of Fire
Prologue: In September 2016, I began a road trip that would take me from Colorado to a portrait assignment in Washington, where I would stay for 4 weeks, then south to California for the Thanksgiving Holiday, and west to Nevada and eventually back to Colorado. I logged over 3,000 miles for this journey and spent roughly a 1/3rd of those miles detouring to photograph landscapes in the American West. The following is but one segment of this journey. These collections are being published in reverse chronological order, so that when the series is completed, they will be ordered from beginning to end. Thank you for visiting!
I left the Fremont district of Las Vegas around 7:00AM and originally had no intention of visiting Hoover Dam. That quickly changed as I passed the third sign marking the exit from Interstate 15. With about 500 miles to cover from Vegas to Grand Junction, I could reasonably take the detour for a few hours and still make it to the Colorado border by sundown.
The truth is, the dam isn't the most photogenic of sights. It's utilitarian and bulky and even on a sunny day, the canyon walls were dull. Radio towers and skeletal looking transmission towers broke up an otherwise tonally pleasing sky. I have a special hate in my heart for power lines, which always seem to mar a perfectly good landscape. In fact, I try to go through great lengths to shoot from a vantage point where those lines are hidden, but that was virtually impossible here. In any case, look! Tiny people!
So, I saw the dam. It was whelming, but the real views lied ahead. Frontage road takes you around the Nevada side of Lake Mead, and there are about six scenic overlooks, all worth stopping for. You can find many more if you're willing to go on foot, but even if you only step out of your car and gaze from the parking areas, it's still an awesome sight.
North of Lake Mead, there's Valley of Fire State Park. You can bypass it and get back on I-15, but you'd be robbing yourself of seeing insane rock formations. There's no wonder why they named it this. The views were perfect and most of the formations are "clean", which for me, means there's no ugly man-made structures in my shot (see power lines, above).
If you take the scenic loop, which is just a plowed path for vehicles, you have a good chance of seeing Bighorn Sheep grazing between the rocks. I almost didn't see this fella. When I rolled down my window for some photos, I thought about how cool it would be to explain that the dent on my driver side door came from a pissed off ram. And then it looked up and started to approach me, so I drove away. Not today, bonky. Not today!
Once I felt like I was at a safe distance from bonky, I decided to go for a panoramic. This, like many other landscape shots I've composed, is actually a series of a dozen or more frames carefully merged together and edited as a single file. With no resampling at all, I can print this image 12x30 inches. This means you can view it from reading distance and still see every detail. Many large format prints are upsized, which sacrifices a lot of detail and quality. I prefer to take the time to create a larger, multi-frame photo and create something that preserves every detail.
Here's a close-up of the calved rock on the left side as proof. Every nook, crack and cranny!
Leaving Valley of Fire was a buzzkill, but I needed to get back on the road. Somehow I'd spent over 5 hours poking around and taking photos. It was like everywhere I turned I saw something beautiful. Sometimes I lose track of time because I'm just taking it all in, alternating between seeing it with my own eyes and trying to capture it with my camera.
If you follow me in Instagram you probably know that I have a weird penchant for photographing my Subaru against different backdrops. She's been a trusty ride for many miles, so I feel like it's only appropriate to give her props from time to time.
This is the last view of Valley of Fire before reconnecting to the interstate. You can just barely make out the road as it disappears into the cleave, around the immense formations and into the park.
Right before arriving to the onramp to I-15, I saw some kind of pyrotechnic graveyard to my right. There were just hundreds of spent fireworks littering a large field. Even stranger were the signs on the other side of the road: "No Fireworks This Side!" Weirds me out, tell you what.
Almost like it was a sign, the blue skies didn't last. It was probably about 20 minutes down the road on the interstate before I pulled over again. I'm sure this would drive anyone crazy if they had to travel with me. I can't help it, though. There's always a nagging feeling of not knowing if I'll be back here again. Or if I do come back, how do I know the light will be the way it was today? Chase Jarvis, I think, said the best camera is the one you have. I would go a step further and say the best shot is the one you take.
Winding down is hard. I travel with my camera bag in the front seat, and at least one lens/body combo sitting on top of the bag. I still had almost 450 miles of ground to cover before reaching Grand Junction, so quickness is key. Still, I had to take one last shot just to show the bigness of this land. So much bigness. The clouds and fog pretty much summed up how I felt about moving on.
The last composition is over 41 frames combined. When printed, it will result in a piece that is nearly 8 feet wide with no upscaling whatsoever.
Here's a close-up of the previous composition, if you'll indulge me. I hope you enjoyed reading!